I ain't Japanese or part of a Rooster.

This story is being updated because, frankly, it's been nearly a year since it was updated last, and my 600 votes behind it was finally able to push it into first place for the small story poll. I have decided to rotate this and AGGC every four months instead of relying on the small story polls from now one. In this manner, I can hope to finish at least AGGC by the end of the year (3-4 chapters remaining). Semblance could be eight to nine. We shall see. I hope to update AGGC sometime in May regardless of the small story poll, which will be updated tomorrow.

This chapter has been beta-read by Hiryo and me via Grammarly. There will no doubt be small mistakes, but such is life at this point with the COVID slowing me down and then my beta-readers too.

Chapter 18: Plans Within Plans

Pyrrha and Ranma kipped out almost as soon as the last Grimm was dealt with along with the other Hunters and the majority of the crewmen who had fought the Grimm. The rest of the crew, in particular the kids oddly enough, were quite busy, trying to repair what they could of the damage that had been done to the ship.

It was still seaworthy, but the damage to the deck and to the upper levels and the various hatches was quite serious. Loading and unloading the ship was going to be extremely difficult with the top of the cargo hatch mangled as it was, whereas other hatches and doors had been simply torn away.

The sides of the ship had also been almost caved in places thanks to the Kraken. Some of the fittings near the water line had burst, letting in water, but the kids and other non-combatants had been dealing with that during the battle, so the ship was in no danger, although repairing the damage would take a lot of time and effort.

The masts had also taken a pounding, which meant, if the engines of the ship failed, they would have little to no way of making progress. The guns were mostly gone as well, which meant they would be more vulnerable from here on to attacks from aerial Grimm.

And of course, there were the dead to consider. But to the surprise of many of the crew, after the initial attack by the Kraken they had lost precious few men, something that had all of the crew of looking at the Hunters in thanks, most especially Ranma and Pyrrha. Ranma had been the one to drive off the Kraken, and Pyrrha was the one who had finished off the other ancient Grimm. But even so, the gunners who had been crushed in their turrets and the two men they had lost was a grievous total to the clan-like crew of the massive ship.

The captain, however, forced the crew to push past the grief. Grief, like fear and anger and hate, acted like siren's songs to the Grimm and they couldn't let that happen. He pressed the noncombatants to work with harsh words and loud threats while at the same time forced them to concentrate on the positives at the same time: none of the cargo had been lost, none of the noncombatants had even been hurt despite their work during the fight in repairing the ship.

Indeed, the damage to the internal of the ship was actually quite low. Except, strangely, for the room that had been assigned to the Hunters.

Ren stared, his head slowly cocking to one side as he practically glared at the captain as powerfully as a man who was practically asleep on his feet could. "What do you mean we can't use our beds?" I'm tired dammit! And a night spent sleeping out on the deck is not my idea of fun, especially with all the noise going on out here.

Jaune seemingly agreed, crossing his arms, and practically glaring at the deck where the mangled entrance to their quarters had once been.

"I mean it's been trashed. The bunk beds are shredded, the door is mangled, everything within the refresher station smashed flat," the captain replied bluntly. "One of the Grimm got in there, one of the medium-sized ones from last night. It couldn't really move or claw its way past the bulkheads to get out, but it wrecked everything inside." While the bulkheads had been rated against Grimm of that size the interior of the room had most decidedly not been.

Then he softened, gesturing downwards. "You lot can camp out on the floor in my room if you want. It's right over the bridge, so you might hear some noises from the crew on duty there but otherwise, it's about as quiet as you're going to get."

Then he glanced upwards towards the crow's nest, shaking his head. "You think those two will want to join you?"

"I doubt it," Nora said, hopping in place as she looked up gleefully. "I'd bet they're even more tired than my sloth-like friend here and cuddling is always fun. I've always thought Pyrrha was a secret cuddler, and now I have proof!"

Jaune too looked up with a faint smile on his face. He hadn't really realized that Pyrrha was interested in Ranma before tonight, but he'd started to suspect something back in Beacon. Now after seeing them share a kiss like that, well, even a blind man would have seen they had feelings for one another. Man, that was hot too. Huh, I wonder if I could ever find a girlfriend like that?

Back in Beacon two girls sneezed at once before looking around in confusion.

"Hmm, instead of cuddling, do you think they're booping up there?" Nora asked innocently, causing everyone there to turn red.

But Jaune quickly shook his head. "No chance. Whatever else, I think Pyrrha's a lady, they're not going to go that far that quickly."

"You never know that fearless leader!" Nora laughed. "She's young, after the fight the blood would be pumping and…"

"Enough," Ren interjected, shaking his head at his partner's attitude. "Your thoughts on the romantic nature of Ranma and Pyrrha's new relationship notwithstanding, I need some rest."

Not even Nora could really argue against that and the three of them headed down into the ship to sleep. They didn't wake up until late the next morning, by which time Ranma and Pyrrha were already awake, and had joined in with the repair and removal projects going along.

With the cat out of the bag in terms of what her Semblance was, Pyrrha saw no reason to hold back her Polarity based power, and she had been at work from one end of the ship to the other using her power to help various repair projects along as best she could, watching the welders and repairmen avidly, finding it fascinating work. When the three finally came on deck she was using her powers to bend a bit of metal around the aft of the ship to fit it tighter into an open segment of the hull, while two crewmen worked at welding it into place.

"About time you three joined us?" Pyrrha quipped teasingly, looking away from her work as Ranma moved past her, lifting up a portion of the damaged hull out of where it had been fitted in a display of strength that would've taken at least seven or eight men to match. Indeed, nearby eight men were waiting to put down the new metal panel. The ship carried more than twenty such panels in order to repair the damage. By the end of the day they would all be used, and there would still be damaged panels and beams all over the hull.

"So, are you two together or what?" Nora asked, smirking at Pyrrha.

She flushed, scratching at her nose and in Jaune and Ren's opinion looking almost too adorable to be real. "Um, yes. We've talked about it or anything but…"

"Yeah, we need to do this stuff first," Ranma replied, looking over at Pyrrha, smiling shyly, an expression that made Jaune's eyes bug out at the sheer un-Ranma-ness of it. "I, um, I do think we need to talk, but um… priorities, right?"

"Right," Pyrrha replied, smiling back at him.

Last night before they'd fallen asleep most of the discussion had been about the fight, both of them professional enough to prioritize that over everything else. And this morning they'd been woken up by the noise of the crew going about their business below them.

Neither Ranma nor Pyrrha was the type to want to sit around while other people were doing work like that. After only a brief, shy, smile shared between them, they had flung themselves into helping the crew with a will. Since then, besides bashful glances, light touches on the hand, and warm smiles they hadn't really taken time for themselves.

"That's no fun," Nora pouted, before Ren reined her in, pointing to the piece of rubble that Ranma had just removed and asking Nora if she could possibly do that. "Challenged accepted," the bombastic ginger shouted, leaping forward like an eager puppy landing behind the foreman handling this area of the repairs. "What do you need removed or blown up Captain?"

Jaune winked at the two lovers, before gesturing forward. "I think it's nearly lunchtime. If you've been working all morning surely you can take a break now, especially given us here to take your place." With that done he too spoke to the foreman, asking, "Do you need anything cut? I haven't found the metal that Crocea Mors can't cut through yet."

Ren simply bowed from the waist to the champion and the warden, before turning away too.

The two of them stood there for a moment, looking away from one another. Then Ranma reached out, lightly touching the back of Pyrrha's hands. "Come on, I think they're right. I'm getting hungry, and I know where we can have some privacy."

The crow's nest was out at the moment since there were four men working on trying to cut away some of the damaged rigging, which they had left there for the night. No one wanted to work that high off the deck at night if they didn't have to."

The place Ranma had found the two of them, was in the remains of one of the mangled gun turrets. It hadn't been manned the night before when it had been crushed thankfully, and the mangled remains did resemble a chair in one place, while there was a bit of twisted metal sticking out from the rest where Ranma could sit easily. It didn't even groan overmuch as it took his weight.

Once they were alone, the silence came back, the two of them exchanging shy, searching glances for a few more minutes, as they quietly ate their meal, simple sandwiches the crew had made up for the workers. Then Ranma sighed, and said "So, um, this is well sort of a first for me. I've told you about my personal history before so, well, the fact that I don't know what to really say or do right now shouldn't surprise you. So I'm just going to say what's on my mind straight out. I think communication is going to be the most important thing going forward."

"I agree. So… to my mind, um Yang is a bit of a large issue. I'm sorry to bring it up but how is she going to react to the two of us getting together? I don't want to lose her friendship over this, but I also… well, I want to see where this goes."

"This sounds good," Ranma replied smiling and reaching over to gently run a finger in a circle over the back of Pyrrha's hand, causing a delightful shiver to go down her spine, "but like I said before she didn't really… it wasn't like she didn't want to commit, more like she thought relationships had to be based on fun. Fun was the point. Not you know a connection, talking, or emotions at all really. I mean we liked one another, but looking back on it, it was mostly a body thing."

"And you would prefer something more serious," Pyrrha asked, her lips twitching into a smile as her eyes slowly lit up. She twisted her hand to catch his squeezing gently.

Ranma nodded. "I, I've decided I'm not the kind of person who gets into a relationship just for the physical side of things I suppose you could say. Yeah, having fun is important, being around your significant other should the fun, should be interesting. And of course, you should um, have the hots for them. but there's got to be more to it, an emotional connection you know?"

"I do know and I'm happy to hear that!" Pyrrha laughed gaily. "And… you do feel that for me?"

Ranma nodded blushing slightly as he pulled his hand away, poking his fingers together as he looked down at the ocean several stories below. Despite his embarrassment though, he replied firmly. "Yeah. I do. I wouldn't have kissed you last night if that wasn't the case."

"Good, because it is the same with me," Pyrrha replied, reaching forward to reclaim his hand and squeezing gently, causing him to look back at her, returning her smile with one of his own. "I'm not the type to play the field or engage in short-term relationships either. If we are going to be in a relationship at all, I would like to see if we can carry it forward. I don't want to use the word marriage obviously, we're both still young for that after all. But I very much want something real."

"Good," Ranma replied, echoing Pyrrha's earlier response, reaching over to tenderly run a finger down her cheek with his free hand, scooting along the piece of twisted metal closer to her at the same time. "Good."

Pyrrha leaned into his touch, her eyes going half-lidded in pleasure as his other fingers too started to stroke down her cheek, then to her neck, and back up to just under her ear, causing her to shiver in delight. Oh my, that felt interesting!

Ranma leaned forward and Pyrrha met him eagerly, their lips pressing together softly, yet insistently.

For Ranma, the kiss was as sweet today as it was yesterday. Pyrrha's lips were soft, carrying a faint hint of the meal they had just eaten, and Ranma leaned in, his arm going around Pyrrha, while hers began to move into his hair, tugging at his pigtail playfully. He hissed, and Pyrrha pulled back, just a little tiny bit, allowing her own mouth to open, waiting. Ranma knew an invitation when he felt it, and he leaned in again, opening his own mouth, and letting his tongue out to slide across her lips.

With a low moan, Pyrrha allowed her mouth to open just a little bit, her own tongue flicking out to touch his. From there, the two tongues began a little duel, twisting, stabbing, flicking against one another, before Pyrrha slowly pulled back, turning the kiss back into a regular kiss rather than a heavy make-out session.

Ranma let this happen, his own mind somewhat dazed by the feelings that kissing had evoked within him before Pyrrha slowly pulled away entirely.

She flushed, staring into his face for a few seconds, then said hesitantly, "So, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I think well I would prefer us to go slowly if that's all right?"

"Taking it slow, right, yeah take it slow, that's fine," Ranma repeated to himself a few times, before as he fell back to his former position, his brain slowly coming back online. "I'd be more comfortable that way too. And I think before we get past the kissing stage, I need to have a talk with Yang. Tell her that you and I are together and there can't be anything more between her and me," he winced. "It might be cowardly of me, but I am really, really not looking forward to that conversation. But it has to be done."

Pyrrha smiled, then grimaced. "In the same vein, I suppose I'll need to tell my parents I'm in a relationship before they find out via paparazzi. My mother might have teased me about how handsome you were in that conference call, but she also has tried to set me up with several other tournament champions in the past. Including grown men twice my age."

The grimace gained in strength at that, while Ranma scowled. "She is one of those people who think in terms of dynasties and dynastic marriage and marrying to mix the strength of people's Aura via their genes and even the idea of Semblance-based marriages."

"Huh… Well, I'm more of a nurture versus nature kind of guy, sorry."

"Me too!" Pyrrha exclaimed. "I did not get as good as I am just because of my genetics or Semblance. I worked for it by the Brothers!"

"But you haven't actually dated, have you?" Ranma asked.

"No. I've gone to meetings with men my mother introduced me to, I've gone to a few meetings with my father when he was setting up the various business deals and everything to do with my brand," she hissed the words and looking away scowling and clenching her hands unmindful of the fact one was still holding onto one of Ranma's.

Ranma smirked, feeling her hand around his clenching hard but doing nothing. It would take a lot more than her grip to hurt him after all. Well, my hand anyway. If she squeezed like that during, GAH down hindbrain, so not the time!

Thankfully Pyrrha was not a mind reader and furthermore was rather lost in her own anger at past events. "Beyond that, there have been various incidents and parties where someone in a crowd tried to touch my rear or flirt but beyond that, nothing. None of them were interested in Pyrrha, there were always interested in Pyrrha Nikos or the Invincible Girl. Not interested me the person but interested in me the imagined icon." She paused, then laughed. "An icon you broke within a few days of meeting me."

Ranma shrugged mock-philosophically. "Pedestals aren't all they're cracked up to be."

She giggled at that, shaking her head then allowed her lips to twist into a pensive frown. "However, I do have to warn you. As I said, my parents will not be pleased, each for their own reasons. Oddly enough I think my father might come around to the idea faster once he understands how much fame you already have as the Azure Warden, but he won't be happy with my being in a relationship in the first place. After all, part of my image is being an untouchable maiden, and maidens don't have relationships."

Ranma rolled his eyes at that and she giggled.

Yet when she spoke, her town said she was once more serious. "Once we get to Mistral the public might take it wrongly, I have no idea how the civilian masses will react. Beyond that, there are a few boys who thought themselves worth my time in the past. One of them is a major reason behind my not wishing to go to Haven Academy he was so pushy, but no real threat beyond public histrionics. On the other hand, Achilles honestly felt that his fighting me and coming so close to winning meant he was the one most worthy of my attention."

"Your tone tells me he wasn't all that close."

"Not at all" Pyrrha chuckled. "I had handicapped myself that day. It was my fourth championship run, and unfortunately, my reputation was starting to do most of the work for me. Most people simply didn't give it their all because they knew they weren't going to win anyway. So I handicapped myself, just to make it at least somewhat interesting. No Semblance, no throwing my shield and no mecha-shifting my weapon."

Her face twisted for a moment as she remembered the pulped twisted wreckage that was Milo at the moment. Only the diamondium blade was at all salvageable. But she shook off her bad mood, going on. "I even had my father put out a notice that something had gone wrong with Milo and the weapon couldn't shift but that I had refused to use anything else. It added to the glamour of my defending my crown, so he was fine with it."

She rolled her eyes. "More than fine with it after the fact. But Achilles thought that the fact he made me work for my win meant he was in my league, and while I'll admit he fought well, he wasn't that good."

Pyrrha's eye-roll was replaced by a heartfelt groan fueled by past memories. "Regardless, my mother, despite the difference in our ages, tried to set us up after that. 'His Semblance is quite formidable, after all'." Her tone then was a near singsong to show her annoyance at that idea before she went on. "I did nothing to encourage it but was forced to throw him a carrot eventually. That he had to train to the point where he could beat me if he wanted to court me. That made him a bit of an annoyance for several months before I left."

She paused, thinking. "I think he would be able to beat Weiss, Ren, Jaune and possibly Blake, I haven't seen her fight enough to know how much damage she can really put out. But he certainly would've lost to Yang, Ruby, Nora, and of course you."

"So not a physical threat, more an annoyance. Gotcha," Ranma laughed. No worries, I'm more than used to that kind of thing. There was this guy, he was a decent enough swordsman, was able to use the air pressure trick and everything, but he never really got that good when we were sparring, you know? He sorts of did occasionally but that was only simply adding tricks to his repertoire, he didn't ever really become faster or stronger or really more 'skilled.' And yet Kuno always thought he did, and…"

From there, Ranma explained about his so-called rivals back in his old dimension, substituting Semaphore for Furinkan High, and doing a few other things to change the setting almost automatically. The stories were still funny and had Pyrrha in stitches. In return, she went into greater detail on her fights with Herakles, who she had mentioned before, from the first, where she'd literally disrobed him as a young boy, to the last, where she'd hit his head so hard that it stuck in the ground of the tournament ring. He had needed three men to help pull him out.

Soon, the conversation wound back to their own relationship soon, with Pyrrha reiterating that she felt it would be best to play it low-key in public. With how Yang could be, she felt it was best to make Ranma understand there was not going to be anything of that nature with her. They also had to be aware of how the public would feel about any PDA between them and she didn't want to rush anything.

"And we should keep things slow as I said. Hugs cuddles and kisses for a good long while. Nothing, um, between the skirt and the neck for a time, I feel," Pyrrha ended, somewhat apologetically. She was after all a young woman, she had hormones too.

"Meh, a part of me wants to say screw the public, what we do is our own business. But I get you're not quite ready to act out like that. Give it time though and I bet I'll get you to that point soon. As for going slowly, as I said, you set the pace, slow or not it's up to you. I can handle it, after all, there's always meditation and cold showers." He looked at Pyrrha, his gaze moving from her emerald eyes to her lips, then down her body not lingering anywhere but taking it all in, before going up to her face, smirking. "Lots and lots of cold showers."

Despite the bright blush on her face, Pyrrha was smiling as she looked back at Ranma, a thrill coursing through her. For one thing, she knew Yang was a gorgeous young woman. Indeed, even Miltia and Melanie, who she had seen in passing, were good looking. Yet Ranma obviously looked at her in a different manner than he did even Yang. That, that was empowering, despite Pyrrha never having really cared overmuch about competing in terms of appearance with other girls.

Indeed, she often avoided such as best she could and given her fame that wasn't an easy thing. And in a way, Pyrrha was surprised that Ranma's look was having the effect it was. Thanks to her fame, Pyrrha knew she was an object of obsession in various ways, including beauty. Whenever she saw paparazzi trying to take pictures of her after exercising or when she was in her private room or even the showers it had always made her revolted. The idea of hundreds of thousands of men she had never personally met looking at her as an object of desire was one of many aspects of her fame she loathed with a passion.

But somehow, Ranma looking at her was different. Seeing the effect she could have on Ranma brought home how attractive she was in a more personal and more positive manner than anything she'd felt before. Here was a young man who knew her as just Pyrrha, who treated her just like a normal girl and who desired her as such.

Then to her shock, Ranma leaned forward, and kissed her just on the inside of her thigh, right above her knee. It shouldn't have been anything but an affectionate kiss, nothing more. It wasn't as if that place was private, her knee being below where her combat skirt stopped. And yet, the touch sent a sharp tingle up and down her spine and Pyrrha was forced to clamp a hand over her mouth to hold back a moan.

Still, Ranma heard her and he moved back, looking up at her in surprise, his eyes wide. "Did you just…"

Pyrrha hopped to her feet, one foot rising as if ready to kick out, her eyes narrowing. "You'll be keeping that to yourself I trust?" she asked (read: demanded) archly.

Ranma laughed at that but nodded. "Sure, anything that happens between us should be private. Although, I'll probably get a reputation for keeping that the case you know."

"What?" Pyrrha blinked not following for a second.

"I mean I'd get a reputation for smashing paparazzi cameras whenever they try to perv on us," Ranma laughed.

Pyrrha quickly joined him before her expression turned sly. "Well then Stallion, I suppose that you probably will gain a reputation for that but far be it from your Rider to care."

Ranma's eyes narrowed. "No. Just no. If that was a pun on my name, I'll give it a four out of ten. But if you're trying to think of a name you'd get a full-blown zilch from me."

"Hmm, so you don't like Stallion," Pyrrha mused, her jade eyes twinkling in delight. "How about Pigtail, then?"

"Oh, I don't know Shnookums, it just doesn't sound like me."

This answer caused Pyrrha to shudder again for not nearly as pleasant a reason. "That would be a no then. Blue eyes?"

Ranma waved one hand. "It's been used before," he replied, not saying who.

Pyrrha instantly frowned as she understood who had done so, then scratched at one chin. "How about just blue, or Azure? For that energy you can use. Have I ever mentioned by the way that your Aura, when you do that is one of the most gorgeous things I've ever seen?"

"Takes one to know one," Ranma said with a laugh then scrunched up his nose in thought. "Hmm… Red is too simple to use as a real nickname boyfriend to girlfriend, so how about Crimson?"

"Crimson?" Pyrrha wrinkled her nose, and Ranma was filled with a desire to kiss it for some reason. "No thank you. I have far too many nicknames based on my hair already."

"Hmm…. This whole nickname thing is harder than it appears." Ranma then blinked as a thought occurred to him. Well, she would probably have been made their queen, so… "How about Amazon?"

"Oooh, I like that," Pyrrha laughed.

"Good. But, um, speaking about the whole paparazzi thing, er, do ya want me to do something about your team? They're kind of observing us right now," Ranma asked, his eyes flicking over to where he could sense Jaune and Nora. Where Nora went Ren was almost certainly nearby, but he at least was doing a good enough job that Ranma couldn't sense him offhand.

"Hmm… I will talk to them I think," Pyrrha decided. "If Nora is recording us though, all bets are off. I might even help you toss her into the ocean for a bit to cool off."

Ranma laughed, and the flash of his grin caused Pyrrha to giggle aloud too. They both looked up then as a whistle blew, signaling the end of the lunch period. She swiftly stood up once more and gestured up towards the main deck. "So, how would you go about making repairing the ship into training? You have said several times before that anything can be training after all."

Ranma grinned and hopped to his feet, grabbing her outstretched hand, letting Pyrrha help him across to the deformed side of the gun mount where she'd been sitting. "Let's find out." Their meals eaten, the two of them exchanged a brief, far more chaste kiss then earlier, before leaving the little alcove they'd found to have some privacy, heading back to the deck to rejoin the reconstruction efforts.

Nearby, Nora, Jaune, and Ren had hidden among the rubble of the ship's main deck, close enough to overhear the conversation the new couple had. Now they were done and heading back up, the three of them remained quiet until they were well away, taking part in the repairs before leaving their hiding places. "Come on!" Nora bellowed, throwing her arms up in the air. "And it was going so good too! Now they're talking about training! What is wrong with them! What is the connection between that and romance? That's like, like, like connecting fish to pancakes!"

Jaune opened his mouth to reply to that one, then shut it, quickly changing what he was about to say. He couldn't think of a connection between fish and pancakes either. "I think it's just their thing you know? They're both martial arts mad."

"I almost resemble that remark," Ren muttered, having been pulled along on this jaunt against his will, "and even I wouldn't think about making cleaning up after this last battle to training."

"Let's see what they do before we deciding to join," Jaune said, gesturing back over his shoulder. "For now though, I think the Rankos watch is over. Come on, we need to start contributing too."

The next few days passed relatively uneventfully. The ship was still capable of the same speed as normal despite all the damage, and no further Grimm attacks occurred, as they left the Endless Straits behind, powering forward over the ocean towards the destination. The work on repairing the ship would be an ongoing project but once the straights were left behind it was smooth sailing.

For Pyrrha, the next three days were exciting, exhilarating, and above all flat-out fun. She gleefully took to every training idea Ranma came up with working with the crew, sparring – with wooden weapons more often than not – and various muscle-building or endurance exercises. They coupled that with discussions about various styles they had run into, comparing them, and working out if Pyrrha should simply rebuild Milo or try for another mecha-shift weapon. Beyond that, there was the simple delight of having a boyfriend, of meals spent flirting and cuddling, of nights spent staring up at the stars together. Of kisses at night and occasionally when they had some alone time.

Ranma too enjoyed their time together over those three days. Indeed it was perhaps one of the most peaceful and fun times he'd had since arriving in this world. Or ever really. But while Pyrrha took it at face value, coupled with the good fortune of now having a girlfriend and how that made the days even more fun, it made Ranma jumpy to think about. After all, how long could his life go before Fate and Lady Luck decided to once more balance out his luck?

But he needn't have worried. Lady Luck and Fate had found a group elsewhere to use as their playthings for a while.


Back at Beacon, Yang stretched for a moment in bed, enjoying the subtle play of her sheets against her skin, before a little crick in her neck caused her to frown. Might have to see a masseuse at some point for that she thought, before slowly rolling out of bed, landing on the floor lightly with a quietness that would've done her partner proud.

Not that she really needed to. Despite all the training and growing up and simple growth as people they had gone through since coming to Beacon, none of her team were morning people bar herself. But boy, have we all grown something fierce since coming here Yang thought, suddenly struck by that thought as she got to her feet.

Once she was standing Yang peeled out of her nightclothes, rolling them up, and tossing them into the team's laundry basket, grabbing up a sports bra and pulling it on, smirking at the skintight feel of it, then pulling a shirt over her head very carefully, always leery of any damage to her hair. No reason to give the boys a heart attack this morning after all.

A second later her thoughts turned back to her teammates. I think Weiss has been grown the most of all of us, looking at the white-haired girl as she nuzzled into her frilly pillow. Not just as a fighter, but as a person. Heck, I think most of her growth has been as a person. She's much more open, much more willing to just joke around and she's had her eye opened to the whole Faunus thing. Although I doubt Weiss will ever grow much physically, she thought, stifling a giggle. Poor girl, she's probably stuck being short and flat for the rest of her life.

At the same time on her bed, Weiss's dreams turned into one of her into her stomping on Yang. At the same time, Weiss's own body began to change, shifting into one that resembled Winter only even better, with a pronounced hourglass waist.

And then there's Ruby, Yang thought, looking tenderly over at the other bed, her little sister's bunk equal to her own height. Despite the fact the bunk beds sort of defied all logic and reason in how they worked despite the ramshackle nature of the construction.

Weiss and Ruby are good for one another and vice versa. She might still be a cookie monster, but Ruby's also stronger, more outgoing and more confident outside of a fight. Yang loved all this and loved the fact that Beacon had really been good for her little sister. And they're so cute too! Seeing them interact sometimes is enough to send me running for the dentist. Although I wonder if Weiss will have to fight Crescent Rose for Ruby's affections. Meh, she could always just use her flat chest as a table, pile up a few cookies and a glass of milk, and Ruby would love her forever.

In her dreams, Weiss's dreams turned even more violent as she tossed and turned on her bed. Her image, still that of an adult Winter/Weiss amalgam, started to stab at another imaginary Yang. The blond bomber was tied to a roulette wheel this time, turning in place as her comically wide eyes watched in terror as a blindfolded Weiss was trying to stab her. To complete the image an aura meter was stuck to one side, going down every time Weiss connected, all to the cheers of an unseen crowd.

And then there's Blake…

Yang paused, staring over at her partner's bed, which was also equal to her eyesight at the moment. And this time her thoughts had nothing to do with how the object of those thoughts had grown since arriving in Beacon but something else entirely. Man, if she were a guy, I'd have been all over her from the beginning! She's smart, strong, able to equip and trade barbs with the best of them, and mildly flirtatious occasionally without going overboard. But that's just it, she isn't a guy, so what do I feel for her? I mean, I've kissed one or two girls, but I've never dated one.

That number was fudged by the fact that Yang had been drunk while kissing the second girl and couldn't remember now if the person was a girl or a very girly man.

But, she is so damn fun and so damn sexy. But then there's this whole thing with Ranma and… Yang shook her head, moving towards the door, opening and closing it silently before heading out on her morning run, as she tried to put her thoughts into order.

She stopped outside the dorm, bowing her head in prayer as she greeted the sunrise in the manner that her father had taught her when she first started to learn martial arts from him. Then she was off, her legs pumping as she began her run around the campus, hoping that Fox or Yatsuhashi was around for a spar when she got back.

As her feet pounded the ground, her thoughts moved back to Ranma and Blake, comparing the two and her own relationships/friendships with them. When it came right down to it Yang knew that she was attracted to both of them.

Ranma, well, the attraction there was practically undeniable. Every time Yang saw him move or saw him fight, it sent a bolt of electricity straight from her eyeballs down to her core. He was easily one of the more attractive men she'd ever seen, not in the term most would've meant it in terms of handsomeness, or a perfectly sculpted body, although he did have that. But it was the sculpture of someone who had made it to be used, made it to fight instead of simply be looked at. His blue eyes were insanely dreamy, he was funny a lot of the time, and his attitude towards the law and how he went about life in general appealed.

But there were problems. He didn't really flirt very well unless he was riled up. He didn't seem to play the game, as she did. He wants something, something I'm not really prepared to give right off the bat she thought shaking her head. As awesome a connection as there is between us on a physical level, he wants one to be there on the emotional and I don't know if I am ready to do that. I don't know if there's enough already there to make me want to try.

As for Blake, there's deftly attraction, even if it's been slower to build up beyond the whole teasing stage than with Ranma. She most definitely plays the game. I have a hell of a lot of fun just trading barbs with her and being around her. And I hate to say it, but I think I'm closer ugh, emotionally to her than I am to Ranma. But is that enough? She was still thinking about those questions as she finished her run and saw Fox and a few other older students already up doing a morning exercise.

About an hour later, back in team RWBY's room, the rest of the team were slowly waking up. As they did, Weiss stuck her head up to look at her partner as she yawned, stretching her shoulders languidly. "Ruby, no offense, but I think I spent the last hour dreaming of torturing your sister."

"Oh, don't worry, I have dreams like that all the time. Normally when she is being too 'punny' but thinks she's so funny," Ruby said with an exaggerated eye-roll. "Or has teased me once too often on my height or boys or… well, it's just sort of normal. Don't feel bad. Um…" She paused, pouting, "Unless you were thinking in color anyway. That'd be bad. At least from what I remember about what my dad said about dreams and all."

"Hmm… no, actually I was dreaming in subtitles… strange," Weiss mused.

Nearby, Blake blinked at this, then shook her head, going back to her book as the two shorter girls yes, played a rock paper scissors game with one another to determine who would go first for the shower. Weiss won, and she headed in that direction, throwing her hair back over her shoulder triumphantly.

About forty minutes later, Yang came in, heading directly to her own little area of the room, where she grabbed up her several different kinds of combs and went to work on her hair. Blake noticed instantly that she had already had a shower and cocked an eyebrow at her partner.

"Ranma's," she answered with a shrug. "He might not be here, but I still have the code to his room."

Ruby huffed at that, shaking her head. "You know that Weiss has a point about that kind of thing, right? He is a teacher still sis."

"Oh come on sis, you know as well as I do, he's probably not going to stay one for long and he's closer to our age than any of the rest of the staff. Besides, like I said he isn't here, so there's no chance of anything fun-rated happening." Yang waved that off, and Ruby groaned.

Blake chuckled. "You're just using him for his shower now, aren't you? That poor man."

Yang laughed, tossing her hair, in such a way that Blake's eyes trailed to it, and Yang smiled internally. "Hah, I'd be more than willing to pay the toll if he was here. But as it is? With four girls here, three of whom at the very least take quite a bit of time in the bathroom, my bowing out makes it a lot better for the rest of you. If I didn't we'd have to go back to figuring out some way to limit the time each of us can take in there as we did for the first few days. Or are you volunteering to share Blakey?"

Blake smirked, then leaned forward, trailing a finger from the top of Yang's exercise shirt to her lips. "Maybe?"

Yang blinked, and found herself oddly blushing, staring at her partner. With that Blake hopped off the bed, adding an extra swish to her hips as she moved towards the bathroom, ignoring Ruby's wide-eyed squeak of shock. When she reached it, she called out over her shoulder, "Point for me!"

Yang's eyes instantly narrowed, but then she laughed. "Hell, where my mind went, I think I'll take this loss happily."

It was Blake's turn to blush, but she hid it quickly, entering the bathroom the instant the door opened shifting around Weiss easily.

Behind her, Ruby just stared at her sister and the closed door in shock. Man, people are weird, and Yang most of all. Ugh, I hope they don't continue like that the rest of the day, the last thing I want is to deal with those two being weird. Desperately trying to ignore what had just happened, Ruby turned to Weiss and asked, "So, you said you wanted to go into Vale today right?"


Neo smirked and waved her hand to a girl who had just waved at her for some reason, a wide beaming smile on the petite woman's face. Neo didn't know the girl or any of the other students waving at her, but Neo's bright smile, her diminutive stature, and her cute features coupled with her body seemed to be making her a bit of a hit among the older students here at Beacon.

Nearby, Emerald rolled her eyes lightly, as they worked their way inwards along the paths of the Academy from the landing zone. They were both wearing the uniform of Haven Academy, and while they stuck out like a sore thumb, their looks allowed them to hide in plain sight as it were. That and the paperwork from Lionel.

"I don't know what you're smiling about," Emerald snarked. "If all these students knew what kind of murderous little ball of energy you are, they'd run a mile to get away from you."

Neapolitan raised a finger, making a tsk tsk tsk noise with her scroll, before handing it over and tapping the side of it alongside a message there that she'd written out. "'Murderous little troll I may be, but cute sells girl! Universal rule.'"

"That's the way the universe is going to end, isn't it? Someone cute pushing a button, while the rest of the world goes 'well that's all right then'," Emerald growled, shaking her head. "I bet you'd like that wouldn't you?"

Neo rolled her own eyes now, taking the scroll back and tapping out a new message, a wide smirk on her face. "'Don't be all snitty with me just because your Mistress hasn't responded to your slavish advances. How is that dry spell treating you?'"

"Shut up!" Emerald barked back, her hands twitching. "If we didn't need you, I'd…"

Neo smile thinned, and the happy-go-lucky cute air about her almost disappeared entirely, as her heterochromatic eyes latched onto Emeralds. One eyebrow rose, as did a hand, which Emerald knew held her umbrella-like weapon. "'You'd what?'"

Emerald snarled angry, forgetting for a moment they were supposed to be acting like normal students. Her fingers twitched towards her weapons as she prepared to activate her Semblance, despite knowing that Neo, with her own illusion-based Semblance, might be able to break her own subtle Telepathic Illusion Semblance.

A new voice interjected before they could come to blows. "Ladies as much as watching a catfight live is fun, I'd have to either demand you leave your weapons out of it or wait for another time. Preferably after I procure a mud pool and a pair of barely-there bikinis for you both."

Mercury moved around the tree, smirk directed at both of them, while behind him several other Haven students walked past. He too was dressed like a Haven student and like the two girls, Torchwick had provided him a paper trail. They were Haven Academy students who, along with two other teams had arrived early due to having taken a mission from Mistral to guard a shipment of luxury wines and other expensive goods that had just arrived the other day.

Ironically, this mission had been created to help protect the crystals from Torchwick's depredations. Getting Lionel to okay it had been ridiculously easy. Creating the paper trail for a three-man team rather than the usual four had been more difficult, but even that had been child's play thanks to the headmaster of Haven being in their pocket. According to their papers, they and the other teams were here checking out Beacon with the thought of transferring next year. All above board and innocent. They had even had a meeting with Professor Goodwitch who walked them through the differences between the two campuses and then had told them to have a look around.

The memory of that woman caused Emerald to shudder. She was used to being around someone who could immolate her with ease but being that close to the most prominent female Huntress in the world – who would do so in an instant if she discovered Emerald's true allegiance - had been something else entirely. But that memory and Mercury's appearance let her regain control of herself as Mercury asked, "So, where exactly are we going? Since it looks as if we're heading to the cafeteria. And I for one have no desire to see what food made by the lowest bidder tastes like."

"Our current target's right by the cafeteria, and I want all of us to have an idea of where it is before we split up," Emerald replied.

To that, Mercury had nothing to say, and seeing Emerald was in no mood for their normal barbed banter, shut his mouth for now.

Which was just fine with Emerald as she remembered how this had become solely her job in the first place. Even the sight of a few other students waving at Neopolitan and her waving back didn't intrude on her thoughts now, as she brooded about what had happened two nights ago.


None of the three of them were good cooks. Emerald could make a decent pasta and a decent salad. Her hash browns were apparently good as well. Cinder was a past master at tea, coffee, and hard liquors. She could create any kind of drink you cared to name. Mercury just couldn't cook. He could barely use a microwave. All of which meant that Emerald was the one who routinely did their shopping for them. She didn't have a problem with this since she could use the good old-fashioned five-finger discount to get anything she wanted.

However, the sight she came back to had all her thoughts about what to make for dinner disappearing from her head. The apartment entrance exited directly into the sitting area and as she turned from closing the door, she saw Cinder laying half on and half off the sofa, blood pooling under her head from her nose and eyes.

"Cinder!" Emerald shouted, dropping the bags, uncaring of the damage she did to anything fragile within, as she raced to her leader and rushed to Cinder's side, kneeling down quickly. She hesitated, then reached forward, pushing Cinder back up onto the sofa, twisting her sideways so she was laying with her back against the sofa rather than on her face. With that done she quickly checked for a pulse finding it going strong and steady thankfully.

Emerald quickly raced into the kitchen, coming back with a cloth that she used to wipe away the blood after setting down a cup of water and several painkillers. These were the heavy-duty kind, the kind that you'd either have to steal, which Emerald had or be a doctor to get your hands on.

Her gentle touches seemed to rouse Cinder, who blinked rapidly for a few minutes before her eyes finally started to track, gazing up into Emerald's face. "Emerald?"

"Cinder! Are you all right?" The tanned girl bit her lip at the stupid question, then shook her head. "Um, I mean what can I do to help?"

"Painkillers," the older woman moaned, holding her hand out. Emerald quickly helped Cinder to sit up, then held the glass against her lips to drink staring at her boss in concern. This was far and away from the worst she'd ever seen Cinder look after a 'session' with Salem and it worried her. It worried her a lot to see her idol so weakened and in so much pain.

In another life Cinder would only have contacted Salem a few times, her plans going smoothly for the most part, with only minor deviations necessary, none of which would impact the overall goal. She would only start to anger her mistress after her initial goal had been accomplished, claiming the remainder of the Autumn Maiden's power for her own.

In this world, the actions of Ranma had necessitated many times that number of 'consultations'. Many times. And as strong-willed as Cinder was, there was a hard physical limit to how often a human being could commune with someone so grossly inhuman and simply other as Salem was without consequences. And that was if Salem was feeling gentle.

Once before, a few times before this, Salem had not been feeling overly gentle, but she had not been feeling angry or enraged at Cinder personally. This time, Cinder had called when Salem was in a very, very bad mood. And her head and brain had paid for it.

Feeling greatly daring, Emerald spoke up now as Cinder finished drinking the glass of water. "Cinder, you can't keep doing this to yourself! Surely, I mean, can't Salem just use a scroll if she wants to contact you?"

Cinder chuckled dryly, amused both by the suggestion and Emerald's daring. That she was now feeling so courageous as to question things like this made Cinder proud of the girl and the fact it was because she cared for Cinder added even more to pleasure to it. "I'm afraid not. There is no CCT tower within thousands of miles of where Salem is. And I doubt she would take kindly to the suggestion that she learn some new means of communication. After all, this method is working perfectly for her," she groused, letting some of her frustration show. If she had been in just a little bit less pain Cinder wouldn't have shown even that, but she was in so much pain right now it was all she could do to not show even more weakness.

Emerald bit her lip, then asked quietly, "Cinder, you know I've never questioned, questioned our goals, questioned whatever we're doing. But, I have to question her. This Salem person has to know how important you are to her cause, and if so, then, I mean why are they treating you like this!?"

"This last session? The attack on the ship carrying the would-be Huntress team and the Azure Warden failed spectacularly. Not only did most of the Grimm involved die, but one of them is somehow in revolt, ignoring all commands from her for the moment. That infuriates Salem to a great degree. She took it out on me," Cinder ended with a philosophical shrug. After all, she could easily understand the anger of plans going awry. And she was beginning to understand her place as Salem's Queen just meant she was in a better position to be taken to task for her failures. A piece is just a piece still, whatever it's label. But am I happy to continue to be so?

"She shouldn't have!" Emerald hissed, before bowing her head in submission as Cinder sent a look at her. "I'm sorry, Mistress. What do you need me to do?"

"Take over the planning for the infiltration into Beacon. I am getting the impression that our plans on this front are going to be put on hold for a time so as long as Adam dies and our identities kept safe, you don't have to worry about anyone finding our little virus after the fact." Cinder bit her lip to keep from groaning as another bolt of pain went through her brain once more. "Beyond that, some food and turning the lights down as low as possible will be a help."

End flashback

Shaking that memory off, Emerald looked around, then pointed surreptitiously to one building set near to the cafeteria. It housed the smithy and gun range and their current target. "That's the building we're after right now. The Security room should be there and the daily patrol schedule too. Beyond that, we need to figure out how many Hunters, both teachers and not, are around. Neo, you get the schedule, Mercury, walk around and take in the sights. I'll mingle with the teens."

Neo looked at her, but Emerald glared right back, unwilling to show weakness now, not with Cinder counting on her to get this job right. More than that, she couldn't even hint to Neo that Cinder had been in such a weakened state, especially since she hadn't entirely recovered yet. If they knew, Neo and Roman would both be like sharks after someone had dropped a liter of blood in the water.

Eventually, Neo nodded, then pointed at Emerald and then around and the green-haired girl nodded. "After you have the schedule, you can join me in mingling if you want. Though why you want to I don't know. Freaking school brats aren't exactly all that interesting."

Neo shrugged, then pointed to her mouth and mimed eating, then pointed to one of the nearby seniors, a guy this time. He had been checking out Neo's pert little ass, assuming just because she was turned away, she wouldn't be aware of him. Now Neo turned, sending him a pouting, blushing look before turning away, and Emerald could actually see him stagger as if struck a physical blow by the cuteness.

Emerald snorted, and nodded, conceding the point that Neo could probably get lots of the kids here of all ages to ply her with ice cream if nothing else. "Fine, whatever, let's just get this done."

The other two nodded agreement and the trio broke up once more.


At the same time that Emerald and her two companions were plotting, team RWBY was in Vale having a conversation about where to go now that their shopping was done. Weiss wanted to go down to the docks, which she seemed to have ulterior motives for.

"She means she would love to see if she could spy on the Shade trainees that have come in so we have a leg up on them if they take part in the Vytal Tournament," Blake said to the others, her cat ears twitching in amusement, her bow a thing of the past she had completely discarded.

Weiss huffed, "You don't know that!"

"We kind of do," Yang teased. "Or is there another reason why you were thinking about ways to sneak into other team's dorm rooms or to spy on Professor Goodwitch's classes with the other grades?"

"How, that is, did you read that in my diary!?" Weiss asked, both shocked and appalled at the revelation.

"If you wanted something to stay secret, why did you write it down the first place?" Yang shrugged, then winked, "But don't worry, I only read a few pages. Your dirtier secrets are safe." And ooh boy were they dirtier than I thought they'd be. Who knew that Miss Prude would have hardcore dreams like that? Still, best to not bring that up just now.

"Setting aside Weiss's desire to bring corporate espionage into the world of hunter tournaments at least it's a nice day out," Blake murmured, smiling faintly as a hot sunbeam passed over her head.

"Yeah, it's nice out. Still, staying on the subject of the Vytal Festival, does anyone know if they'd let teachers enter the tournament. Can you imagine Professor Ozpin and Ranma going at it?" Ruby asked, her silver eyes gleaming with excitement at the very idea.

She honestly wasn't all that interested in taking part herself if she was honest. She was a Huntress. If she wasn't fighting Grimm, she wanted to fight to make the world better. Being on display for the masses wasn't her idea of a good way to do that. But she also loved the idea of seeing other people fighting it out.

The others paused, cocking their heads as one while thinking about that. They'd seen Ranma in action several times by this point whereas they only knew that Ozpin was respected as the strongest hunter alive, nothing more. Nothing about how he had become so, what his Semblance was, or anything else. There weren't even old videos about his past missions, only dry extremely sparse reports. That, and the fact that Ozpin walked with a cane, even if it didn't seem as if he really needed it.

"It would certainly be an interesting matchup," Weiss murmured, her thoughts derailed from wanting to murder Yang for her invasion of privacy. "Personally, I'm wondering who would win in a match with Ranma and my older sister, Winter."

The two of them had talked for a while when she and General Ironwood visited Beacon a few weeks back. Weiss had gotten the impression Winter had hated Ranma on first sight, though Winter didn't explain why.

"Ranma," Blake and Yang replied. Ruby looked away, whistling, not wishing to get under her partner's skin, as the other two evidently had given her glare and the way Weiss was fingering her waist where Myrtenaster would've resided.

Yang ignored the little girl's anger easily, winking over at Ruby. "Hey, what about Drunkle Qrow? Who do you think would win that match?"

"Qrow? You're not talking about the Bloody Qrow are you?" Blake asked.

"The Bloody Qrow?"

"Oh yeah, that's what they call Qrow down in Vacuo right?" Ruby explained excitedly. "I always thought that was the coolest name!"

"There and elsewhere," Blake said with an eye roll. "But yeah, he is a little infamous, even if no one is certain what he looks like. The bloody Qrow, the Drunken Hunter, the Death Reaper…" she paused, staring at Ruby. "Perhaps I should've made that connection earlier," she admitted, a sweatdrop forming on her face as she thought about it.

"It's cool Blakey," Yang he said, reaching over to ruffle her years, amused at the purr that escaped Blake before she could regain control of herself. "The two of them look nothing alike, even if their styles are kind of similar. Still," she mused pulling her hand away from a thoroughly unamused Blake, "I have to wonder who would win in a fight between them. The Azure Warden versus the Drunkle Qrow…"

Back on the ship, Ranma and Pyrrha had quit their training for the evening, the last light had gone and had cuddled up once more in the crow's nest. They'd discovered quickly that both of them liked cuddling, even if Ranma continually got a mouthful of Pyrrha's hair.

Now she looked at him, having pulled away from the cuddle, one eyebrow rising as Ranma had turned away and quickly covered his mouth to stifle a sneeze. "Good instincts," she approved. "Even being my boyfriend would not have saved you from a beatdown if you sneezed into my hair."

"Yeah, I figured," Ranma said with a chuckle, and Pyrrha giggled before leaning back in, sighing contentedly as she nuzzled into his hard, muscled chest.

Unknowing of this strange phenomenon, back in Vale, Weiss wrinkled her nose, scowling as the two siblings. "How can you have such respect for someone who is a known drunkard anyway?"

"Because it doesn't seem to slow him down at all," Yang and Ruby said as one before grinning and exchanging a high five.

At that point though, they came upon a destroyed Dust store, with two policemen outside it and wide yellow tape surrounding the place. "What happened here?" Weiss wondered, frowning as she took in the scene.

"Let's find out." With that Ruby lead the way up to the policeman smiling politely. "Excuse me, but what happened here?"

"Beat it, kid, this is no place for…" The policeman trailed off as they saw Yang looming over Ruby's shoulder, crossing her arms in front of her bust, one blonde eyebrow rising. Then she grinned like a wolf. "You two look familiar, have I run into you before?"

Both policemen gulped, as they had indeed run into Yang before. They were two of the policemen she had tossed around like five-pound weights when the police had been holding her sister, prior to Ruby meeting Ozpin. Eager to avoid a second emasculation at her hands, they quickly replied to Ruby's question. "Um, I mean, er, it was a break-in. Someone broke in, stole all the Dust, but left all the money and got away clean. No witnesses or anything this time."

"I don't get it, who would need all that Dust?" said the other policeman, shaking his head and looking back at the scene of the crime to get away from Yang's smirk. Then he turned to his partner and made their second mistake of the day. "I'm thinking the White Fang."

Blake bristled, but the other policeman replied before anyone else could say anything. "I'm thinking we're not getting paid enough for this."

"How dare you!" To the rest of their surprise, that hadn't burst out from Blake. Rather it was Weiss who had shouted it, and now was marching up to the policemen like the most diminutive Titan in existence, wagging her finger in their faces. "You two are police officers! You're not supposed to jump to conclusions without facts! While the White Fang might be a terrorist group, assuming they are behind something like this is not only ridiculous but will blind you to facts that argue against it! Facts like how my partner here fought someone attempting to do the same thing, and I would rather think that someone like Roman Torchwick would never work with the White Fang! If only because they couldn't stand one another," she added conscientiously.

Then she went on quickly. "Setting aside your racial profiling, there are further facts to consider, such as the overriding fact that the White Fang in Vale has been almost completely wiped out! Again, thanks in no small part to my partner and teammates, they have lost a large portion of their number active here in Vale, and furthermore, this is a time for unity, not for more race-based distrust on either side of that divide. Or don't you people watch the news?"

Nearby Blake simply waved at the policeman, twitching her cat ears. The two of them blinked, stared at her, then at the Huntresses, recognizing them now from a news report from a few weeks back. They quickly mumbled apologies, slinking off and heading into the store.

"Damn!" Yang said, holding up a high five to Weiss who huffed, but matched it with her own. "That was about as close to verbally breaking someone's legs as I've ever seen!"

"You've been hanging around Nora too long," Blake muttered, before moving forward to give a surprised Weiss a brief hug. "Thank you."

Weiss huffed, quite pleased with how her little diatribe had been taken by her team but unwilling to show that just yet. "Yes well, the idea of policemen simply making statements like that, especially in public where they could be quoted and used as a 'reliable source,' it was so unprofessional I just had to say something."

Ruby had been grinning all the while at her partner's actions, but now turned back to the shop, frowning. "Still, I have to wonder who really is behind it. I mean sure, Roman's supposed to be a pretty big time thief, right but what would a thief do with all the Dust? And I didn't get the impression he was a smash and grab kind of thief either."

"Re-sell it," Yang said bluntly. "He'd get it off his hands quick, ship it to other countries maybe and sell it there. Or just wait for the prices to hike, then sell it through the intermediaries here in Vale.

Weiss nodded agreement but then frowned. "I agree that is what a criminal would normally do, but I keep an eye on the world's Dust markets, and I haven't seen any sign of that, not even through my family's more…clandestine contacts. But since none of that's happening…" her frown deepened, and she turned to look back at the shop. "Ruby's right, what are they doing with all that Dust?"

For a time, the four of them were silent but it was too nice a day out to be maudlin for long, and soon they were trading barbs and teasing one another as they moved down the streets. Occasionally they were stopped by people wanting to talk to Weiss or Blake, but thankfully the new conference had happened enough days ago to it be almost old news by now.

Eventually, the three of them were making their way down towards the docks, both to buy Blake some fresh fish since the cafeteria's schedule didn't have any for the next week and because Weiss did indeed want to spy on any teams coming in. And as Yang had hinted, she had already made plans that evening to investigate the teams from Beacon.

Before they could buy the fish, a commotion to one side caught their attention. A blonde boy, their own age, in a vest without a shirt underneath and torn jeans was running away from a pair of sailors, and one security guard. It was only as the blonde man came towards them that they noticed the tail flapping behind him and realized he was a Faunus.

"Get back here you no-good stowaway!" one of the men shouted at the boy.

"Has anyone ever actually listened to that kind of order? Besides, I'm not a no-good stowaway, I'm a great stowaway or you would've found me before you got into port! Later losers!"

"Should we do something? He is sort of being a stereotype right now," Yang asked looking over at Blake.

The cat Faunus sighed but nodded. "True enough, just because he's a Faunus doesn't mean he should get away with breaking the law."

Instantly Ruby was in action, speeding up the side of a building via a helping hand from Yang to arrive right before the boy would have landed. He changed direction with a yelp, bouncing off the side of the wall high up towards a nearby light, but found Blake had jumped up there before he could get there. A kick lashed out, forcing him away.

Unfortunately for the Monkey Faunus as he ducked away, he came close enough for Yang to grab his ankle, with which she hauled him down to earth. Caught flatfooted the blonde man slammed back first into the ground and she shook her free hand at him. "I wouldn't try to run dude."

Instead of trying anything though, the monkey Faunus just blinked up at Blake, who looked down at him, one eyebrow raised. "Oh, it's you! I'm a big fan!"

Blake blinked, backing away rapidly. "What?"

"Yea!" the blonde boy replied, hopping to his feet and breaking out of Yang's grip. "My names Sun Wukong and I gotta say you were awesome in those interviews and so brave! I mean it had to take a lot to basically out yourself as not only a Faunus but a White Fang member, all in public like that. How'd you get that brave, I mean I'd have had stage fright being in front of that many reporters. Not so much the cameras or the people but reporters freak me out, man."

Blake's eyes flicked sideways to Yang, her lips twitching. "Well, I kind of had help from a friend," she said obliquely.

Yang blushed for some reason at that scratching at her cheek and looking away before blinking in surprise at her own reaction. The hell!? Ooh, Blakey, you're gonna pay for that one.

"Thanks, you four," said the security guard, grabbing at the still-unnamed Monkey Faunus's shoulder. "We couldn't have caught him otherwise. Now come here, you! Maybe sometime in the slammer will tone you down a bit!"

"That seems rather over-the-top for someone who is merely stowed away," Blake interjected, stepping forward. "Did he steal anything?"

"I didn't steal anything but food from the kitchen occasionally," The boy replied with a headshake. "And I had to do that, it's a two-week trip by ocean from Vacuo to here."

"And why were you stowing away in the first place?" Weiss asked, scowling.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Sun said, shrugging unconcern. "Besides, I used up almost all my money to get my weapons upgraded after one of my teammates accidentally damaged them. I didn't have enough left to pay for a ticket once they hiked up the price thanks to my being a Faunus!"

"Is that true?" Weiss asked looking at the two seamen.

One of them looked uncomfortable but the other one just shrugged ignorance and she sighed. "How much would it have taken him to purchase some time on your ship?"

The two blinked at that, and she rolled her eyes wondering idly if she could feel the muscles within growing stronger over the last few months at Beacon. "If you don't know that, then go find someone who does! And if they do indeed price gouge, that is illegal here in Vale. And indeed, anywhere but Atlas. What that said about her homeland wasn't pretty but at least Weiss's heart was in the right place.

After some wrangling, the first mate of the ship came out and faced with Weiss Schnee and Blake Belladonna, who had quickly risen to something of minor star status thanks to her public denunciation of the White Fang, he quickly agreed to let them pay for the young man's passage at the normal fair with a marked discount. But Weiss paid the full price, saying that was also to pay for his food.

"So, like I said the name's, Sun, Sun Wukong," the blonde boy said, smiling at them all, and winking at Blake. "Thanks for that bailout. Mind you, I don't think it was near as fun as my way of getting out of it, but…"

"Just stop talking," Blake groaned, shaking her head. "Are you trying to be a walking stereotype?"

Ruby and Yang laughed, understanding what he had meant, but Weiss had already moved on, thinking about something else entirely as she looked around the docks. Her eyes flickered around the place too fast for the others to follow, before she pulled out her scroll, and began to type into it quickly, seeming to look up some information stored on it.

With Sun tagging along - somehow, Ruby wasn't sure how he'd gotten them to agree to that – the short-stacked reaper led the others away from the docks, stopping at a fishmonger to buy a few small fish for Blake as Ruby zoomed away, moving as far away from the others as possible. The smell of fresh fish did not agree with her.

Weiss was still looking down at her scroll as they all rounded the corner, with the others talking to Sun, asking about his team, and going to school in Vacuo. She barely looked up as Ruby shouted: "Weiss look out!"

Then there was the sound of two bodies smacking together. Weiss went one way, her scroll the other, and the individual she had smacked into backward onto her rear.

"That was something straight out of Looney Tunes I swear," Sun chuckled.

Rolling her eyes, Yang reached down and lifted Weiss easily onto her feet, smiling down at the other girl. "Sorry about that, she wasn't looking where she was going. Are you okay?"

The girl was another short girl who was also, wearing a skirt, with ginger-colored hair down to her shoulders, and a wide, beaming expression on her face. "Yes, I am fine. How are you today?"

"We're fine," Blake said, staring at the girl who frankly was giving her some very weird vibes and not just her facial expression but her complete lack of body language. "Would you… like to get up?"

"Yes, I think I would," the girl replied, before flipping herself onto her feet adroitly. She took a moment to pat down her skirt, then smiled at them.

Yang too was a little weirded out by the girl's mannerisms, so edged around her, heading down the street. "Well, we have to get going. "Ya better watch out for the wildly speeding Weiss from now on."

"She is right, I'm afraid," Ruby said, although she was smiling as she did it, not seeming to care about the other short girl's attitude. "I like your bow by the way. And, that skirt's cool too!"

"Thank you," the girl said cheerfully. "I picked out the color of the ribbon myself. And I rather like your cloak."

"Well, goodbye friend," Ruby said, moving after her sister the others.

They all gasped as the girl suddenly cross the intervening distance and was in Ruby's face before she could take two more steps. "Friend? Am I really your friend?"

Ruby blinked at that, then looked around at the others. Sun was chuckling, staring at this in interest, while the other girls shook were waving their arms around rapidly. But Ruby wasn't exactly a master of nonverbal communication and had no idea what that meant in this instance. So she simply nodded smiled. "Sure, I guess."

Then she was in a vicelike grip that kind of reminded her of Yang, but Ruby noticed this hug was much less squishy even as the girl squeezed the life out of her. "Sensational! I made a friend! Oh, this is magnificent, now we can do one another's hair, paint our nails, look at fashion magazines, and talk about boys!"

Stumbling away from the girl, Ruby looked at Weiss. "Was I like that?"

"You were a little cuter but far less articulate," Weiss replied not looking away from the girl. "If you don't mind me asking, miss, sound as if you're from Atlas. And what is your name?"

"That's correct. I go to the Atlas Military Academy. I am here to participate in the Vytal Festival. However, I was sent ahead, in order to acclimate to the climate," the girl said, the last sentence as if she had read that off a brochure of some kind rather than making it up herself. Then she brightened perking up as her voice shifted to a somewhat more normal sounding voice. "And my name is Penny Polendina."

"You're here for the tournament?" Blake asked incredulously.

"Indeed, I am combat ready!" Penny replied, actually saluting.

"You don't look as if you're a fighter though. Both in body type and clothing," Yang quipped.

"Hey, don't diss the combat skirt!" Ruby and Weiss shouted as one linking arms with a surprised but happy looking Penny causing much laughter.

Still giggling Yang reached over to ruffle Penny's hair. The girl was weird, but she seemed friendly enough. Best to follow up on Ruby's inadvertent friending. Plus, Yang's big sister subroutine had activated. This girl just could not be left to wander the city on her own. It was a recipe for disaster. "Well we're in town for the day, do you want to see the sights with us for a bit?"

Penny's eyes widened. "You mean it!?"

"Sure," Blake agreed.

"Sensational!" Penny shouted again, throwing her arms in the air. "I of course agree!"

"In that case, can we get something to eat?" Sun asked.

"You don't get a vote freeloader," Weiss snapped, before looking over at Blake. "I'll note that my comment against him has nothing to do with…"

"I know," Blake interrupted, patting the shorter girl's shoulder lightly then looking over at her fellow Faunus. "Do you intend to mooch off us if we get some to eat?"

"Mooch is such a strong word, I prefer to put as me owing you a favor in the near future for an act of kindness now," he replied with a grin.

She rolled her eyes, then Penny spoke up volunteering to pay for them both, so long as they found something that served traditional Vale cuisine.

"I don't even know what traditional Vale cuisine is, we're more of a polyglot than anything else. Still, pizza is always good. I know just the place in fact." With that, Yang led the way through the city, to the same pizza joint where she, Ranma, and Ruby had bonded after meeting for the first time.

As they entered Ruby stopped and stared, at a picture of herself and Ranma locked in their impromptu eating contest labeled the number one and number two big eaters of the year. "Oh God, why!?"

"Friend Ruby is that you? Did you participate in an eating contest? Given your body mass, I would not have assumed that kind of thing would be at all interesting to you, but I suppose that this would be a perfect example of the phrase looks can be deceiving that I have been told about," Penny observed.

Yang smiled teasingly at her sister. "Heh, funny story that. Ranma, he's one of our friends, though he's also a teacher at Beacon and Ruby got into a bit of an eating contest. But it started off as just a fight for food. She lost both."

"Ruby lost in speed?" Blake was shocked. Even Ruby's hand speed was pretty darn fast, faster even than her.

"It was pretty funny at the time," Yang said with a laugh, putting her arm around her little sister. "But look, you're famous now!"

Ruby rolled her eyes, but still led the way into the pizza place.

Upon being shown into a large circular booth, Penny and Ruby dominated the conversation, talking about weapons, fashion, and accessories for their combat skirts, a conversation that Weiss joined in.

At the same time, the Monkey Faunus more than made up for the lack of food Penny was trying to put away while explaining how he'd come here in an effort to, oddly enough, do the same thing Weiss had started to do: spy on Beacon teams who might be taking part in the Vytal Festival in the future. "Since, our team isn't going to be sent out on missions for a while what with all of my teammates down with sunstroke. By the time I get back, they should be over it."

Blake and Yang spoke about a test they had upcoming in professor Port's class. Sun spoke about his going to Shade Academy and mentioned that their history professor had spoken about Oobleck, as if "he was a kind of hyperactive devil to be avoided at all costs."

Then a thought occurred to Yang, and she reached over, poking Weiss in the shoulder to get her attention from a conversation about stockings of all things. "By the way Weiss, what were you looking at so hard on your scroll before you bumped into Penny?"

"It was a thought that occurred to me while I was contemplating the Dust thefts that have been going on of late. I wanted to see if I could figure out whether or not a shipment of SDC Dust was arriving anytime soon and what security precautions were being taken on it. Say what you will about my father's personality, habits, or societal leanings…"

"What?" Sun asked with a burp.

"She means that he is a racist asshole with a side order of abusive jackass," Yang translated, with Blake nodding along. She'd gotten that impression too the few times Weiss had mentioned her family.

Weiss looked pained, then shrugged. "I really can't deny that at all, frankly. Regardless, as I was saying, his business practices are quite astute, and if Vale is hurting for local Dust, he would surely try to take advantage of it."

Yang and Blake exchanged a glance as a thought occurred to both of them. Could her family's company be behind this? Maybe this whole thing was an effort to move into the Vale market even more than they already had, by wiping out the small-time shops and mom and pop Dust providers? They didn't say anything though, not having a head for business they didn't know if that idea would have been profitable enough to make it work.

"But I was rebuffed. Not only was I told to mind my own business, but I was told that someone as young as I was had no reason or ability to go snooping around. Just because I…" she paused, looking away her teeth clenching.

Ruby hugged her from one side, while Blake smiled and bumped her shoulder against her from the other side. She smiled at them gratefully, then looked up as Sun broke in.

"I don't know if this will help, but I do know there's a shipment of Dust coming in tonight. A lot of the warehouse workers down on the docks were talking about it as I tried to sneak away. "And I'm talking about a big one, on a ship the same size as the liner I came in. And if I were this Roman guy or whoever is behind the Dust thefts I would know about that shipment. And if he's really after as much Dust as he can take, it would be a prime target."

"That makes far too much sense for me to ignore," Weiss groaned. "And if it is coming from my company, I have to do something about it."

"And prove who is behind all of these thefts. I dig it," Yang said with a nod.

"We could also prove that it isn't the White Fang," Blake said with a nod. "Or catch them in the act. Either is good."

"Well I'm in," Sun said with a laugh it sounds like fun. He winked at Blake and once more Yang found herself growling a little.

This time though Blake heard. She turned to the blonde bomber in confusion, then turned back to Sun, smiling faintly. "If you want to join us, a fifth fighter would be nice to have I suppose."

"What about me?" Penny asked all the other hand. "I am combat ready too! And this sounds as if it is an appropriate moment to bust out of some of my mad moves," she said, once more as if she had read it off a pamphlet.

"Eh, that line's kind of dated Penny," Yang said with a laugh, "But if that's your way of saying that you want to come too, the more the merrier I suppose."

"So, do we want to be in place to guard to this shipment, or do we want to be nearby enough to spot whoever is going to try to steal it and ambush them?"

"Ambush," Ruby said, taking command quickly. This was a tactical question and she was the team leader for a reason. "Here's what we're going to do…"


"I tell you Perry, remote-controlled thievery will never catch on! How could there be any panache or the flair for the dramatic that is so much a part of the gentleman thief in simply sending a drone to do your dirty work?" Roman mock complained, as several dozen Atlesian Knight 130s moved around in front of them, loading and unloading. Originally this task should have been given to the grunts of the White Fang. But there just wasn't enough the White Fang left in Vale to make that a viable option.

While Roman knew the WF was keeping some of their resources to themselves, he also didn't particularly care about that, though he had lately learned that their recruitment was down across every country bar Atlas. That had made him laugh, yet hadn't helped him solve his manpower issues. He only had ten White Fang operatives, none of them combatants, with Perry being their overall commander.

Regardless, Roman had a job to do, and he was going to do it as well as he possibly could. That job was to be a distraction tonight. But just because I'm going to be a distraction, doesn't mean I'll necessarily be the kind of distraction that Cinder wants me to be.

He had gotten the distinct impression the last time Cinder had talked to him - via scroll call rather than in person, an oddity for her since she always likes to add that intimidating touch to any communication between them - that Cinder would not exactly shed any tears if this job went belly up. Roman was fine with that, so long as he himself could get away. Hence why he had Perry break out the big and small toys for this job.

"Whatever you say, boss. I'll see your desire for flair and drama and style and raise you simply being safe every time," the Faunus named Perry replied from where he piloted the bullhead. He was a young man, slightly tanned, who had large dog ears flopping to either side of his face. He was also extremely intelligent and should have been a manager at some kind of bank or corporation.

As it was, Roman was quite happy to have his services. He was even thinking about introducing him to Junior eventually, if or when Cinder's plans went belly up.

"…Are the two troubleshooters ready for trouble?" Roman asked more seriously, as he paused as he was about to move away from where he was leaning against the front of the Bullhead.

"Yeah," Perry said with a nod, pointing out the canopies' fuselage to two large crates. "There they are. Brought in by the Sneeze Dust Company along with all the dust and already hacked thanks to our compatriots on the ship. Score and Fang are already in them ready to go."

"Excellent. Those should keep anyone from off our back." Then he looked around making sure that none of the other White Fang were nearby as he whispered, "And you and the other logistics experts are fine with…"

"They're both loose cannons boss," Perry said with a sigh. "Adam left them and Crusher behind because they were sick at the time, but the three of them were some of his most eager yes-men along with Ripper. They'll love having access to those things and if push comes to shove Derry, me and the rest won't shed a tear for them. Especially if it lets us get away clean."

Roman smirked that, patting the Faunus on the shoulder. "I'll make a criminal of you yet."

With that he moved away from the bullhead, posing somewhat dramatically, before moving on to smack one of the disguised androids on its rear with his staff. "Come on, you animals we're on a time schedule here. Do you want to earn your doggie treats or not?"

Nearby, just within hearing range of her extrasensory abilities and hidden in a crate, Blake's ears flattened against her skull. "Really, what the flipping heck!? They're working with Roman?!"

Weiss's voice reached her from the small radios Penny had somehow procured for them all that afternoon, her tone wry and annoyed at the same time. "I can't believe it either, I mean he has to be one of the most annoying people in the world, why would anyone work with him willingly?"

For the second time that day, someone sneezed for no apparent reason as Neo, taking a break from her work with Emerald and Mercury stared aghast at where her ice cream cone had fallen from her hand. No! It was innocent!

Fire in her eyes, she pushed herself up and moved to the counter, her anger roiling off her. With gestures and glare she convinced the worker behind the counter to give her another cone for free. Her threats of violence were possibly unnecessary but certainly made her feel better about the lost ice cream.

"I think he tries harder than most to be annoying anyway," Ruby muttered into her own intercom pouting as she stared at the criminal who had nearly blown her up through her the scope on Crescent Rose from a rooftop set to one side of the loading area of the port. "I think though we've proven who's behind the dust thefts. So, is everyone ready to rumble?"

"Ugh, it's too late for us Blake, the influence of the Xiao-Long has corrupted her," Weiss groused, to which Blake chuckled before they all became serious once more.

All save Sun, who may or may not understand what the word 'serious' really meant. "Heh, I liked it anyway Rubes. But yeah, this Monkey Man is ready to bring the bang!"

The six-man team of would-be Hunters was scattered around the docks, all of them in hiding in various ways, with Blake and Sun being the closest to the actual action going on, hiding in a series crate, small holes having been drilled in different segments so that they could look outside. Beyond that, Yang was the next closest, with Weiss well behind her towards Ruby's position. It had been determined that she would be more useful at range able to toss her glyphs everywhere rather than up close and personal like Sun, Yang, and Blake.

Penny was with Weiss, in order to protect the girl in case anyone got too close. All in all, it was a decent setup, one that made Yang proud that her little sister had come so far as a leader. It heightened all of their advantages, while also putting in them in a place to ambush people. And she decided to put herself well back from the action too, where her sniper rifle can do the talking but where she can't show off her 'mad scythe skills.' She put the good of the mission over her own desires. She did a better job of that than I would have for certain.

When everyone had checked in, including Penny, saying they were ready to go, Ruby started the ball by firing a shot towards Roman, her voice nearly as loud as the shot from Crescent Rose through their coms, "Now!"

Since she knew he had aura Ruby had aimed for a straight shot on Roman, hoping it would knock him off his feet at least.

Roman surprised everyone by somehow seeing it coming, and whipping his cane, Melodic Cudgel, up to intercept the incoming round. It still burst, and he stumbled back but his aura didn't take a hit. "What now!?"

"Weiss, Freezerburn!" came the next order as Ruby laid down long-range covering fire, her sniper rifle firing as fast as she could shift targets.

The instant she left her hide-out, glyphs appeared underneath Yang. These catapulted her forward almost at a speed equal to that of her little sister on a lazy day, flinging her in among some of the grunts. One of them withstood her attack, a large, extremely powerful-looking man almost as tall as Yatsuhashi, if not quite as wide.

He stumbled back, but then counter-charged her, lashing out quickly with a hammer that put Yang in mind of Nora. The blow came in hammering under Yang's defenses into her stomach, lifting her off the ground and flinging her backward. Christ this guy is strong! Almost as strong as me when I'm using my Semblance. "Huh, you remind me of that asshole with the chainsaw I squished when you WFer's attacked the train," she mused as she pushed herself free of the rubble she'd caused.

"YOU!" the man roared, staring at her then over to Blake who had moved to attack Roman. "You and that traitor! You killed my brother! I will slaughter you both and rape your corpses!"

"Not going to happen!" Yang shouted, going on the offensive as soon as he attempted to turn and move towards Blake. She got inside his own reach and hammered several shotgun-assisted blows into his face and chest pushing him back then ducking under a blow from his hammer, slamming a punch into his face with each word. "Hands off the kitty!"

When it came to strength to strength, no one could beat Yang when her dander was up. The man slumped, his brain rattled in its brainbox by her punches and she rammed one final blow into her his chest, Ember Celica going off once more and hurling the man away to crash into a nearby pallet unconscious.

But the hunters had made a mistake in thinking that the group helping Roman were all White Fang grunts. At a few shouted commands, the majority of them dropped what they were doing as their hands mecha-shifted into guns, small-caliber machine guns to be precise. They began to fire at the attackers, their bursts of fire accurate and aimed, pinning Sun in place almost instantly as he yelped and dove around their fire. "What the heck, those aren't Faunus… unless there is such a thing as Mecha-type Faunus in which case I feel I got gipped."

"Those are Atlesian Knights you dolt! Type 130 series. They are accurate but don't have much durability!" Weiss shouted as she conjured a glyph which created a few ice spikes hurling them towards the robots.

More of the robots began to unload from one of the bullheads, and these were not clothed in the normal uniform of the White Fang. Rather they stood revealed as Atlesian Knights, their armored forms painted matte black with red lights coming from their chest plates and visors, showing that Weiss had been correct.

She was also the next to be forced to back away. In contrast, Yang just tanked it on her with her aura and her Semblance, every hit to her body enlarging her aura reserves dramatically.

Elsewhere, Blake had been able to close with Roman but found herself on the back foot almost instantly, the man's skill much greater than she had anticipated. He ducked under a blow from her, and his Melodic Cudgel slammed into the side of her knee, despite her attempt to dodge, causing her to wince in pain even through her aura. Then he came up, the end of the cudgel thrust upwards like a spear towards her chin and she used a shadow clone to back away, before rushing in, using two more before getting behind him, slashing at his back. His aura took the damage, and he turned as the blow struck, tracking her movement even as she tried to use another shadow Semblance to back away, then charging again.

A shout rang out through her transceiver, "Zebra!"

Blake instantly hopped away, feeling a glyph appear right in front of her, nearly freezing Roman when he moved to follow, then used Gambol Shroud to grab at a nearby stanchion, flipping herself up and around it, as Weiss hit her with a time dilation glyph that sped her up tremendously while slowing the speed of everyone around her. A second later she bounced off an airborne Glyph that acted as a springboard, catapulting her forward to slam into Roman, the sword tip of Gambol Shroud first. His aura was able to take the blow, but he found himself flying backward, nearly losing his hat and weapon before rolling to a stop.

Yet despite that, and the fact that Sun had now gotten in the androids and Ruby was shooting down the rest of them with methodical hits from long range, Roman was still smiling as if he was in complete control of the situation. That annoyed Yang no end, but she was too busy with the robots at the moment to get away from and express her displeasure upon him.

And a moment later, all of them saw that Roman did indeed have cause for his confidence.

"Kyle, Dominic, time for you to shine!" At a flick of a button held in his hand, two nearby large crates opened up and out strode Atlesian Paladins. These were giant mechs, easily three stories tall once they unlimbered from their containers, their shoulders bulging with weapons mounts, their hands twitching into fists as around their wrists guns began to spin into life.

Weiss was aghast. How!? Why are they here! Is my company in cahoots with Roman! How did they get here, how does he know the codes to activate them!?

As they rose from their crates, the Paladins began to fire all around them, laying down a destructive hail of both missiles and regular cannon fire. It was not aimed, the operators not able to lock onto their targets for some reason, but the two Paladins still put out a prolific amount of firepower. Cargo containers exploded, though thankfully most were empty of further Dust, while Sun and Blake both came under fire.

Even the distant rooftop where Ruby had been firing from wasn't safe. A few missiles slammed down from there on a parabola from the two Paladins, the rooftop exploding upon impact.

But Ruby had already moved, racing forward leaping down into the little hallways made of cargo containers as she shouted, "Penny move forward to take out some of those droids then get around the Paladin's flank! White Bumblebee!"

With that, Yang broke off pummeling droids into the ground, turning and racing towards this new threat on an angle forcing the closest Paladin to turn, to keep her in view.

She found her feet slamming down into another glyph, which bounced her up into the air into a grab from Gambol Shroud. A second later she was whirled through the air, Blake using her like she was the stone at the end of a bola, hurling her towards one of the mechs.

At the same time, the other mech fired, peppering Ruby's former position with fire and explosion having tracked her communication somehow. Inexperienced as he was, the driver couldn't get the Paladin out of Yang's way before she slammed into the droid causing it to stumble backward.

Yang gripped the front of the thing, and hammered shotgun blast after shotgun-assisted punch into it, shouting out, "I hope you're hungry!" Each hit noticeably dented the thing's armor, and she took the time to destroy the two missile mounts on the thing's shoulders too.

The Paladin she was clinging to still fired off several more wildly inaccurate shots, but eventually, the driver figured out how to do do a weird shimmy sort of move, hopping in place and rotating its upper body wildly in a full three-hundred and sixty-degree turn to fling Yang off. But that only opened it up to be frozen to the ground by Weiss, who then lashed it with lightning blasts while Ruby raced closer. "Ice Flower, Extra White!"

Two glyphs appeared around Ruby, the speed glyph which was quickly becoming one of Weiss's favorites. The second glyph heated Crescent Rose's edge so much it looked white. A second later as she lashed forward one of the Paladin's legs came off entirely at the knee. Then she was past the first one, moving towards the second, "Poly Rose!"

For a moment, Penny didn't acknowledge the command, unused to taking orders from Ruby - after all, they had only known each other for a few hours - as she used her mono-fiber controlled swords to continue cutting into the androids around her, a scowl on her face as she thought about how easily they had been turned to the cause of villainy. But she did turn in time to lash out at the android.

Yet she didn't do so with her mono-fiber-controlled blades as Ruby had expected. No, Penny was getting angry at this point. All these people attacking her friends, stealing dust, and turning Atlas robots to evil had quite gotten her dander up. "Grrr you won't hurt my friends anymore!" with that shout, she created a circle of blades in front of her before punching outwards into the center of it with both hands, which glowed green. The green expanded briefly before flashing forward into a beam of laser-like energy.

The paladin's driver saw the energy buildup and proved himself better than his compatriot at dodging the large mech, but the machine still lost one of its arms to the scintillating beam of energy. And then the Paladin lost its head – and all its sensors - to Ruby a second later not having seen her coming at all, the blast from Penny having blocked its view. Her still blazing white scythe sliced the head clear off the mech's shoulders.

"Maaaannnn…what the hell are they feeding their students in Atlas?" Sun muttered as he smashed a droid into pieces with Ruyi and Jingu Bang.

"I don't know but I want some," Yang replied as she landed nearby, crushing another droid under her feet.

Yet the two paladins had done their job.

While the would-be Hunters were busy with them, Roman and the last three conscious Faunus leaped onto the Bullhead behind him. "Until next time kiddos," he said, waving his hat in the air towards the Huntresses and the blonde punk.

"And not a moment too soon boss," Perry muttered, staring at one particular screen, which showed the road leading up to the port's main entrance, where a military-grade Atlas jeep had just screeched to a stop as a very well-known, easily recognizable figure jumped out of it. "Did we know that general Ironwood was still around!?"

Roman blanched and moved into the bullhead quickly, slamming the hatch shut behind him. "Get us out of here!" he ordered, "As fast as freaking possible. I am not going to tangle with that man, not now, hopefully not ever."

Behind him, the two Paladins fell easily to the six Hunters. Yang was able to get behind one, her shotgun gauntlets making short work of its movement actuators and battery pack.

Once the batteries went, Weiss's rapier stabbed through the last Paladin's chest heated by another glyph, and then Blake was there too, pressing her gun into a joint and firing until the waist stopped moving.

For a moment as the last Paladin ceased movement, there was silence then Yang looked around them, sweatdropping. "Um, Weiss… exactly how much of this stuff is owned by your company? And um… is your insurance up to covering terrorist acts?"

"Yes. And most of it, but at least I won't be having to pay for any of it. And we stopped Torchwick from getting away with these Paladins, all these Knights, and the Dust. So, there's that…" Weiss muttered, sounding worried despite her upbeat tone. The Paladins in particular and where they came from, was very worrisome to her.

"You won't be paying for any of it Mrs. Schnee if I have anything to say about it. While I could wish you had all gone to the authorities with your concerns, I see that at least upon taking action on your own you did so in an effective manner."

The six Hunters all turned to the new voice and stared as General James Ironwood approached through the smoke and the slowly dying flames of the battlefield. He stared at the two Paladins his hands clenched at his side before turning back to them all, sizing each would-be Hunter up in turn. "Well done."

"Thank you Uncle Ironwood!" Penny said with a bright smile, skipping towards the man.

"UNCLE?" shouted Ruby and everyone else there in unison.

At that James smiled, then looked into the sky as bullheads began to descend. "However, my opinion of your actions does not mean I will be stopping Glynda from making her displeasure with those same actions plain."

All the teens there bar Penny groaned, and Sun made to make a break for it, but James was in his face holding the back of his head in a gentle yet unbreakable grip. "Don't even think about it kiddo."

Sun whimpered, wondering what it was with people stopping his getaways today, while RWBY and Penny tried to rush around, trying to find fire extinguishers and anything else they could use to help stop the fire spreading. More in fear of Goodwitch than because they thought it was a good idea really. Not that it succeeded, alas.


Truthfully, for all their concerns about it, getting to the building housing Adam was almost anticlimactic. The plan to get into Beacon itself worked to a T. The food bullheads parked, and men came and went, moving the frozen and packaged food from the bullhead into several small trucks, hauling them deeper into Beacon.

The three infiltrators hid out nearby, waiting for the distraction to kick in. When it did, it did so in a major way, much more than anyone had expected. Glynda Goodwitch, Port, and several other well-known Hunters raced to the bullheads, leaving the academy and heading elsewhere.

"Huh, I wonder what happened? Roman was only supposed to make a tiny splash, right? Just start a firefight with the Hunters on duty down in the docks?" Mercury asked.

Neo held up her stylus. "I doubt he went with that plan. He might have just bought them off entirely or at least paid them to take a fall. Still… I don't know how the plan could have grown to call for this many teachers responding.'" Neo looked worried for her partner for a moment before putting that aside. Roman was a big boy, he could handle himself for a day away from her at least.

"Any kind of distraction's a good one, and you know that man likes to steal the spotlight. Whatever. Let's get a move on," Emerald ordered.

Ironically, once the hunters arrived, most of them would find they had been rousted out of bed for no reason, the fight over. Port and a few others would spend much of the night trying to find the Hunters from Shade who should have been on duty. They had indeed been bought off, or else Weiss would not have been able to use her authority to bully her way into the section of the port turned over to the SDC. Glynda on the other hand, once James stopped her from terrifying RWBY and company, would spend her time putting fires out and repairing the damage.

As they moved deeper into the campus grounds, Neo and Emerald's Semblances made the job of getting to the clocktower scarily easy. Neo covered them with a hard-light illusion that hid their bodies under the appearance of three male maintenance workers. This hid them at long range and worked to keep them from even being recorded if they had been so silly as to let the cameras online for this, which they were not, thanks to the code Cinder and Emerald had inputted into Beacon's security system. Although there were closed-circuit cameras to consider.

And whenever anyone came close, Emerald would use her Semblance, shifting their attention away.

This did happen several times, despite it being a late night. There were senior students out and about, and a few Hunters on Security, ostensibly resting back at Beacon, while also on call for any Grimm-type trouble in the area. There were even a few teachers still in the school, the senior of whom was Oobleck. He personally sprinted across their paths several times, almost as if something were telling him there was something wrong with the trio, but not enough to do anything about them, even talk to them, thanks to what Emerald's Semblance was telling him.

By the time they were at the clocktower though, both girls were exhausted. Semblance use took Aura, and while neither were Aura-intensive in short bursts, extended use like this wore both of them out. But that was what they'd brought Mercury for, and after resting for a few minutes, they boosted him up into a window that Emerald had opened earlier, after disabling the security device on the latch.

With Emerald behind them to provide a lookout, Mercury and Neo moved through the building, Neo once more covering them with an illusion, this time a sort of chameleon hard-light illusion that melded with the background, making them invisible. It only worked for short amounts of time and only so long as they were moving slowly, but it still worked, and they reached the small maintenance room, where an air vent opening into a series of ducts that led up into the room where Adam was being held.

With Neo by the doorway, Mercury moved over, unscrewing the wire mesh and grating that covered the entrance to the ventilation duct. He then placed the box on the floor, opening the end of it and pressing the now opened portion against the ventilator. When the inhabitant of the box refused to move, he shook it from side to side slightly. From within the box, a buzzing noise sounded for a second, and Mercury waited for a brief instant before snapping the front of the cage back down.

Now came the hardest part. The waiting.

Inside the vent, the specially evolved Grimm bug buzzed around for a bit, battering itself against the sides of the air vent, and the wall, which had separated it from its little nest. It looked like a horrible amalgam of Grimm, scorpion, and hummingbird, its wings beating so fast it looked as if it was hovering rather than flying, its body black and glossy save for a tiny, beaked Grimm mask. About half of its body weight seemed to be made of its tail, which dropped below the main body, its stinger tiny but extremely sharp looking.

It buzzed around the entrance angrily for a few minutes before its senses detected the smell several floors above it. Something warm was there, something human. Then the bug's genetic hardwired instincts came into play and it zoomed through the air vent, heading down, down and into a room where a patient lay comatose, hooked up to several machines and IV tubes.

Nonetheless, its arms were also strapped down, not that the bug Grimm had the senses to be able to notice any of that. No, all it could tell was that the body in front of it was warm and human-shaped. That was enough for the Grimm, who landed on the body's shoulder, its stinger stabbing out instantly into the neck, leaving a very tiny pinprick.

There was a 'thwap' noise as the tiny barb went home in the body, and then, the green within the bug Grimm the bug slowly seeped out, down its stinger once all of its poison had been in injected into the body next to it the Grimm, pulled its stinger out with some difficulty, and then wound its way back up towards the crates, heading back to try to get back to its nest. It found the way open to it this time, and not questioning this bit of fortune darted forward, slipping into its little nest.

The bug settled back into its cage, and Mercury shivered, shaking his head as he quickly latched the thing down.

Without any other gesture or word, he moved away, joining the two girls outside, he nodded once. Then gestured down to the box and whispered, "Let's get out of here, I want that thing away from me! Grimm should be big bad, and in your face, they shouldn't be small, deceptively sneaky, and above all poisonous as all get out!" This little thing freaked Mercury out something fierce, an effect well beyond what other Grimm had ever done to him.

Emerald just nodded, while Neo rolled her eyes, which seemed to be her go-to reaction to anything coming out of Mercury's mouth. She gestured them on, and the three moved quickly, heading back with enough time to get back onto the truck they'd been brought in with the evening supplies. Luckily by that point it was so late at night no one was around beyond the security patrols and they were easy to avoid.

Once within the back of the cargo bullhead, Neo gestured directions to Mercury and the box, and when he set it down looking at her quizzically, she stabbed it instantly with her weapon, 'Hush.' The tip of her parasol blade entered the cage within one of the air slits, stabbing into the creature within. She held it there, waiting until she heard the thing give a death rattle and then slowly pulled the weapon out. The blood on it was already dissipating as Grimm blood often did and she nodded in satisfaction.

And for once, Emerald found herself in complete agreement with Mercury and Neo both. "Good riddance." She nodded appreciation as did Mercury, and the three fell back into silence, mission accomplished with no one the wiser.


Or at least, that's what they thought. While their identities were still unknown, in a small room underneath the clock tower itself, in a room that was almost as well protected as the one that held Amber the Fall Maiden, a long line of buttons began to glow red, and Prof. Ozpin smiled thinly. While he had not been able to completely protect Beacon from infiltration – he had, in point of fact not tried very hard - he was fully able to monitor a single room in a myriad of different ways to monitor the health of the individual within, and any change in the overall atmosphere. This included a camera that had shown the Grimm bug flying down to sting the mass of a body to death as well as monitors on its overall health.

Now he looked down at the cognizant, but still heavily sedated, Adam Taurus as he gestured to the simulacrum that had just dissipated. "Well Mr. Taurus, you now can see that you have been cast aside by your former allies. I realize that that does not mean anything to the White Fang itself, but surely, given the lack of care they have shown for you here, you can find it in your heart to answer some questions about your former allies outside of your terrorist group?"

Adam didn't respond, simply staring at the camera feed, before looking up at Ozpin, then away. His teeth gritted.

This was not the Adam Taurus that most of the world was vaguely aware of: large, strong powerful his face mask by a half-mask made to look like a Grimm, dressed all in black with red highlights, his swords at his side.

No, this Adam was sunken, his face fully visible. The upper portion of his face which he previously been covered by the mask was almost chalky white given how long it had been since he'd first donned the mask. After which he had never taken off, not even to sleep let alone anything else. It is far simpler, after all, to act the monster when you only ever see yourself wearing the face of one.

Yet, even so, the man did not break immediately, simply looking away from Ozpin and the glaring proof that at the very least his former allies if not the White Fang themselves had decided to cut her losses where he was concerned. It was remarkable really, how stubborn the Bull Faunus could become.

Ozpin merely smiled, sipping at his coffee. "Well never mind. You will be taken from this place soon by an old friend of mine named Qrow. Then he and James, yes, that James, will be asking you some questions. They won't take no for an answer as I have. Just think about that Adam. And do remember, that we can keep you sedated, and your Semblance and Aura suppressed indefinitely.

He paused then, his smile thin like a scalpel, as he lowered his coffee mug. "On top of that, there are several drugs, which can help to make you talk. Albeit not without repercussions. I am certain you can think of hundreds of better ways to live out your life than that of being a drug-addicted vegetable."

He stood up and moved towards the door, then looked back as Adam spoke. "I won't tell you anything about the White Fang."

"I'm not asking about the White Fang, Mr. Taurus. I have never asked about them or been at all interested. The White Fang when you get right down to it is a societal problem. I am interested in is a threat to our very existence. Both Faunus and humans. That is my task as a Hunter."

He waited again, but Adam said nothing more and he sighed before leaving the room. Still stubborn. On your head be it then, he thought, shrugging his shoulders on that issue. Regardless, they would now get their answers. And no one would know they still had Adam Taurus after tonight, something he had known would get out.

Not even Blake Belladonna or her team would realize the former assassin was alive. Ozpin would tell her that Adam had been assassinated while most of the professors had been called away to deal with Grimm attacks. It will not allow for the closure that Blake has sought, but there has to be some sacrifices. And the information that Adam will give us, once he is fully broken, will be more than enough to turn the tide in our secret war with Salem. Even if his mind will never be the same again afterward.

"One must do deeds in the dark at times, to protect the light," he murmured as he walked along the empty, black corridor.


With Neo leaving them the moment they could get away from the food distribution center, the two remaining villains went through several different disguises and hideouts, before returning to the apartment complex where Cinder waiting for them. "I take it that your mission was a success then?" Cinder asked, looking up from where she was watching the news, a pensive frown on her face.

The frown and the words implied an 'or else' message to her words, but Emerald just nodded, moving quickly into the kitchen. It's done, the bug did its work, then Neo stabbed it. I didn't honestly have it in me to argue with her. I'm sorry Cinder."

"No you're not, if you were, you would both be groveling," Cinder replied dryly but she didn't remonstrate with them about the bug's death if a Grimm could be said to be alive in the first place. Even Cinder, for all that she had been working with the Grimm for seven years longer than Emerald or Mercury hated the small bug Grimm. Even the one that she had used to drain the power of the Fall Maiden had made her skin crawl and it hadn't contained any kind of poison within it. "Still, well done. At least something is going right."

Emerald cocked her head, then asked, "Um, is there anything I can do to help?"

Cinder smiled then shook her head gesturing to the news. "No, Roman got away, as much as I had hoped otherwise. Cleanly and completely. And unfortunately, we have been called away."

"Where to?" Emerald asked the obvious question.

"To Mistral. We're going to pull back for a time from our plans here in Vale. Cinder scowled. "General Ironwood is still around here for some reason. Apparently, he never even left after arriving to confer with Ozpin after the battle of Semaphore. He was simply hiding here in Vale. And, Torchwick just painted a giant bulls-eye on Atlas and our procurement agents there." It would be a terrible shame if anything happened to Watts, wouldn't it? Cinder thought with an internal sneer for the older man. "We're going to have to lay low, not just here, but in Atlas for a while. And, Salem has demanded our help in dealing with the Azure Warden in Mistral."

Emerald grimaced and made to open her mouth, but Cinder looked at her, her eyes narrowing, and Emerald closed her mouth. Looking at her, Emerald could tell Cinder didn't like these new orders any more than Emerald did, but it seemed as if they were not being given a choice. So instead she simply nodded her head and asked, "When do we leave?"


Ranma and Pyrrha stood with the rest of her teammates on the prow of the massive cargo ship as they came to the entrance to Mistral, the main city, and port of the nation of the same name. It was situated on the shore of a vast, well-protected cove, the likes of which Ranma had never seen before, not even in pictures of various places historical places back in his old world. The entrance to it was only twenty miles across, the sides protected by two monstrous fortresses situated on top of large cliff faces, which continued out of sight to either side. Pyrrha said that they bent backward in and eventually almost merged once more, created the first dell of Mistral.

In the distance, Ranma could make out a bright stream of blue moving through the distance city, which she called the Mi'strach. It allowed for a continual connection between each of the protected valleys, which made up the country of Mistral, each one protected by huge fortresses just like the two, which protected the cove from the sea.

Inside the protected cove, dozens of smaller ships, ranging from small skiffs moving from a tiny village on one side of the massive cove to another. Other, larger vessels were also coming in from the ocean, being pushed around by tugboats into docks at the main port, which fed into a city about half the size of Vale. Several ships came close, staring at the larger vessel, and Ranma could see dozens of people lining the sides of those ships, all of them with large cameras pointing in their direction. In others were children accompanied by their parents, the youngsters shrieking out greetings unheard over the distance as they waved their hands madly.

"…So, can we take that as a sign of how much attention we're going to get once we're inside the city?" Ranma asked, staring. Oooh boy, I have been severely underestimating Pyrrha's popularity. Around them, Pyrrha's team was thinking much the same thing.

"I'm afraid so," Pyrrha said, bashfully playing with her shield by her free hand. She didn't stop smiling however, simply waving her hand in one direction and the other.

Ranma shook his head. "You do know that pandering to their attention like that is just going to egg them on, right?"

She shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable now underneath the fake smile. "It's how I was raised and trained to act. I'm afraid, breaking the habits of a lifetime is going to take a long while."

Ranma rolled his eyes, then asked, "But you don't have an issue with somehow avoiding their attention, right?

"Not at all," Pyrrha said firmly. "If you can think of a way out of this without our being mobbed, I am all ears."

Ranma smirked, then looked over to Nora. "Nora, could you lend me your brain for a moment and Magnhild too?"

Ren's eyes widened and Jaune groaned. "Why do I think this is not going to be fun?"

"Oh don't worry, it doesn't involve breaking legs. An explosion maybe, but no breaking legs."

Pyrrha laughed but turned away as the two of them began to plot how to get away from the ship and the crowd that would no doubt be waiting to greet her when they arrived, staring ahead of the city. The city itself was nothing to her, simply the entrance to Mitral in her opinion. She had never lived here. She lived several valleys away, and even then, the place where her parents lived wasn't really what her home was if she let herself think of the term.

No, she was staring at the city, and what lay beyond it, wondering now what other adventures would be awaiting them here. Then she felt Ranma's hand on her shoulder, and turned, her polite smile for the distant cameras turning into something far more real as she did so. Regardless, whatever new adventures await us, so long as we face it together, I am certain we can overcome. Including any adventures that deal with getting us away from the public, she thought, grinning as Nora began to bounce on her feet excitedly before racing away to get her hammer.


Among the onlookers waiting for the Invincible Girl were two men, connected in purpose, though no one around them would have guessed that judging by where they were and how they carried themselves. They were there because Salem had had enough. Ranma had proven too difficult to kill with simple Grimm, but she had other tools, and she no longer had any thoughts to spare for long term goals, ploys, or the other maidens. No, she wanted to kill the one called Ranma, the man with the power of the Spring Maiden before he could become stronger before he could learn how to utilize that power to an even greater degree.

The first man was close to the docks, among a group of workers who had stopped their work to stare at the incoming ship and the massive crowd waiting for it. He was a thin, wiry middle-aged man, far stronger than it first appeared as evinced by work he had been doing on the docks, his arms, sometimes visible under the dock-workers uniform he wore, showing a series of scars. His dark brown hair was slicked back against his head, his skin pale, and his eyes an odd golden color.

He seemed to be a subdued sort to most who had met him since he had arrived a few days ago, although a few had noticed he seemed to have some kind of disorder, which would cause him to twitch uncontrollably at random intervals, along with a strange chuckle that could burst out uncontrollably.

His name was Tyrian Callows and he was a serial killer in service of Salem. And he was here to kill Ranma. Thankfully, he had also been told to keep a low profile until they could ambush Ranma somehow away from the eyes of the populace. Yet that did nothing to stop his inner psychosis. So his thoughts, were they visible to those around him, would tell the truth of what this man was.

For they were tinged with the taste of mania. That one! That one! It carries the one who has angered my mistress who has made her rage and shout! Yes, kill it kill it I will kill kill, I will do away with that, which has infuriated my mistress kill him! And then I will hear her praise, her praise yes! My mind and body belong to Salem!

The second man was well away from the ocean, sitting at a café set on a tall buildings' rooftop, overlooking the city. He was a truly massive man, who would have stood head and shoulders above Ironwood, or Yatsuhashi, and was even wider in the shoulders than either man or indeed both men combined. He was so large that people would normally treat him with respect for no other reason other than that size, even if he was currently sitting at a table delicately sipping some local drink while eating a lovely sandwich. He had a neat, well-cared-for beard and dark brown eyes, which were currently latched onto the ship in the distance. "So, that's the ship our targets on? Interesting."

"Aye, it is, and I'll thank you kindly not to mention that ship and target in the same sentence out here," his companion said, her tone pleasant but her gaze commanding. She was a woman who seemed a little over middle-aged much like the man himself, with dark blonde hair in a bob-cut her body somewhat dumpy in a purple, white, and yellow dress that left her shoulders bare. One of those shoulders showed a tattoo which clashed oddly with the rest of her middle-aged matronly appearance. The tattoo was of a spider in its web.

"My apologies madam, although I would have thought that having every one of the patrons in this café being one of your men would have served to allay your fears about being overheard," the man replied with an airy wave of one massive hand.

The woman pouted mockingly back at him. "When ya get ta be my age in this business me darlin' Hazel, you learn to never take things for granted."

"True. And I will, of course, bow to your wishes in this manner." With that, the man bowed lightly over the table towards her before shifting the topic. "Regardless, you will agree with our terms for aid?"

"Malachite's Spiders deal in information Hazel, of course, we will agree to the deal. But I'll warn ya now, I won't lend me men or any part of my organization to taking on the Invincible Girl. She's too much of an icon, too darn in the spotlight for that. You want to 'deal' with someone travelin' with her, ya do it with your own resources," the woman intoned, her voice firm.

"That is perfectly acceptable, Lil' Miss Malachite," the man called Hazel replied pleasantly, though something dark and bloodthirsty flickered in his eyes for a moment as they moved over to the ship. After all, he's a servant of that, that wizard Ozpin in his high tower. For that alone, I will relish the chance to tear him apart.

Lil' Miss Malachite, leader of the largest organized crime syndicate in the valleys of Mistral, very carefully held back a shiver at what she, with years of experience, could see in this man's eyes. "In that case Mistah Hazel we have a deal."

Yet Salem wasn't just going to use her human tools of course. No, she knew thanks to her human spies that Team JNPR had been sent to aid in a high-profile extermination mission. They would find the Grimm waiting for them. It was time, Salem decided to once more show humanity that they were not the true owners of this world. And all of Mistral would serve as an object lesson to that effect.

End Chapter

So, pretty much everything about this chapter fought me for one reason or another. I think that it was simply because it's been so long since I had been able to work on this story at all, that everything I had already done had flown out of my mind. This is an issue that must be addressed going forward somehow.

Regardless, I think the issue with Adam is going to come to an end shortly but will Cinder still be an enemy then? Or with their heading into Mistral, will she already have been run over by the Wild Horse? Who knows? Regardless, the action is going to shift entirely back to Ranma and Co. next chapter, and I hope that this story will win again in the small story pole sometime soon. Regardless of that, it will be updated in four months' time.